Feelings are a very weird thing. I’ve wondered multiple times in the past if people processed things like I did, as in “do they feel sadness the way I do”. As we all cry the base emotion must be similar, but people are so wildly different from one another maybe the feeling itself is changed from one person to the next. I ask the same question about happiness; some people are overly bubbly and exuberant and express happiness by juggling or standing on their heads naked. Some are stoic and express happiness with a muted smile and a sip of beer. My question is – does the bubbly person feel happiness the same way as the stoic person? If you could make it into a solid thing and remove it from person A and person B, would their happiness look exactly the same? Are the differences not in the emotion itself, but how we express it?
First off, I have no idea if other people think about stuff like this. This could just be Hillary being overly pensive and thinking she’s a great fucking philosopher after a Xanax and enough Diet Coke to drown a whale. There’s a point here, though, I swear, and it’s somewhere around the Xanax part of the last sentence. I, dear readers, am burdened by a case of The Crazy. No, not the “bury your pets in the backyard and sniff your garbage” crazy, but more like I am diagnosed as depressed and anxious. For these conditions, I am medicated.
I’ll be honest, when I was first told I needed to be medicated, I balked. A lot. I didn’t want to be one of those stereotype women who lived in the suburbs and needed Prozac to make brownies. I felt – and actually still feel – that our society is far too medicated for its own good. I think sometimes kids aren’t all ADD, they’re just spoiled and want to play video games instead of doing schoolwork. I think some parents want to be able to point at something like ADD and say “IT’S NOT MY FAULT HE’S NOT DOING HIS WORK, IT’S THIS CONDITION” and are far too willing to latch onto an excuse and a pill instead of doing their god damned job and telling the kid to shape up. If that means throwing his XBox 360 out the fucking window to get the point across that school comes first, so be it.
((Side note before I go any further: yes there are kids out there with the actual condition of ADD or ADHD, and yes those kids need proper treatment. I don’t for one second believe it’s every other kid in America though. Screw that noise.))
Anyway, the point being I had a very strong, almost visceral reaction to being told that I could use a little chemical assistance in getting back on my feet. A little background for those readers not familiar with this author’s history: I was very close to my grandmother. She was in a lot of ways a second mother to me. She died unexpectedly in March of ’08. I had what would clinically be called An Utter Shitfit after that.
My stomach rotted out, I sobbed a lot, and I found I couldn’t cope with anything. No really, anything, including my job. I liked what I did at Comcast before I had my meltdown, but after I lost my grandmother, I couldn’t stomach angry customers yelling at me anymore. I’d freak out, shake, sweat, and go the ladies room fifty times a day to try and fix myself. It was awful, and it was a totally new, terrifying thing. Mind you, I’ve always been something of a sensitive basket case and took far too many things to heart, but this was a whole new ballgame. I’d gone from “over reactive” to a ticking time bomb.
When all of this happened, a friend (some of you know him as Bricu, others know him as That Pretentious Bastard) would talk to me about some of my grief issues, and he’d give me some great pointers on how to cope. Not too long in he recommended I go talk to a therapist. It stuck in my craw a little, but I knew he was right. Looking back I’m note quite sure why I was so against seeing a specialist. I think it had to do with pride, like “I’m a big girl, I can handle my own shit.” I had a very definitive idea in my head of A) what therapy would entail and B) what needing a therapist said about me. Let’s get it out there now, I was wrong on both accounts.
When I thought about a therapist, the first thing I pictured was a middle aged man in a cardigan sitting back in a business chair with a notebook opened in his lap. He’d have glasses perched on his nose, and an expensive pen. Maybe he’d have a manila folder with my name printed along the edge. He’d have a big dark office with painted pictures of craggy old men on the wall. There’d be a lot of leather bound books with gilt letters on the side. And then, of course, there’d be the standard leather couch or divan I’d be expected to sprawl in. In my imaginary therapist world, he’d ask me questions about my formative years, ignoring the problems at hand, and eventually convince me that the reason I was coping so badly with EVERYTHING EVER was that someone stole my peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch when I was six and all of my problems stemmed from a shitty childhood.
No shit, this is what I thought. Why? Probably because I’ve watched too many movies.
Imagine my surprise when my therapist’s office had plain white walls, a comfortable chair in the corner, a vase of flowers, and a really pretty thirty something year old woman waiting for me. She had crayon pictures everywhere – some from her own kids, some from her kid clients – and there was a set of the “Five stages of grief” done on paper plates with Cheerios. Instead of diving into my childhood and telling me that some uncle I forgot existed touched my no-no parts and I’m a repressed molestation case, she talked to me about Stuff. Random stuff, anything, bullshit stuff. What I liked to do, why I was there, what I hoped to accomplish not only with therapy, but with my life. Any anxiety I had about going into that office was gone after one session, because she talked to me like I was having a conversation at dinner with a friend and not like a therapist to a patient. She got to know me.
When she told me a few sessions in that she thought I should consider medication, I told her why I didn’t want to do it. I even think I brought up the aforementioned pride bit, like “I shouldn’t NEED this, I’m stronger than this, this is a crutch.” She patiently explained to me that medication is not something that people should consider a lifelong commitment. In some cases that’s necessary, but a great deal of therapy patients do this to help them get back onto their feet until they can establish good behavioral coping mechanisms outside of the pills. It wasn’t so much a crutch, she said, as something to help me get by while I go about addressing my stress and depression triggers. Phrased like that, the pills didn’t seem like such an evil entity to me anymore. Was I thrilled about them? No, of course not. But I knew I was in a bad place, I knew I needed help, and so I relented.
That was a little over a year ago now. When I started my journey with this whole “mental patient stint”, I threw up constantly because of panic attacks, I cried, I stayed in dark rooms and didn’t let myself go outside, I swung between insomnia and sleeping eighteen hours a day with no happy medium. Now, though, I no longer throw up. I don’t sleep all day, or not sleep at night. I’m on half the dosage of Prozac I was on before, and I only take Xanax on an as-need basis. I’m looking at going back to work on a regular basis, and I hope to be able to nix the pills entirely by the end of the year. Do I have all of my coping mechanisms figured out? Fuck no, but I’m getting there. Surprise, surprise, writing helps me deal with things. So does /getting out of the house/ despite the fact that the prospect of leaving my Safe Zone is scary as hell.
I’m not cured, but I’m better, I’m leagues better. It’s all I could have asked for.
Now back to the original paragraph, and to the point I’m trying to make here. I know that how people handle things is different. I know that my stress triggers will not be the stress triggers of everyone else around me. I even know that some things that make me look like this:
Would be blown off by most other people. Does that make me or anyone else seeing a therapist for anxiety and depression “broken”? Nah. It just means we’re at a point in our lives that we need to Figure Shit Out and have gone to the professionals for help. It’s no different than seeing a podiatrist for a foot problem, really.
I think the reason I wrote this in the first place is I hope someone can look at my own personal experiences and learn from my pitfalls. I hope if you feel like you need help you don’t go through a shame cycle about it like I did, and I certainly hope you don’t think meds are THE ANTI-OKAY. No, they’re not for everyone, but taking them is not necessarily a sign of weakness or ineptitude as a human being. This post wasn’t meant to make anyone uncomfortable (yes, I understand it’s of a personal nature) but as someone who sees the written word as a powerful medium, if one person takes something positive away from this, it was worth sharing the experience.
And if you are a person dealing with any of these issues? Take it from someone who knows: it gets better if you do the diligence. Hang in there. It’s worth it.